FORTVILLE — The Marauders keep finding a way to get the job done.
With a “next man up” mentality, Mt. Vernon’s girls basketball team — despite losing two of the team’s top rotation players — continues to produce wins.
The Class 4A No. 18 Marauders, who opened their Hoosier Heritage Conference season with a 70-61 win against Pendleton Heights on Saturday, have used unexpected depth, dead-eye free-throw shooting and timely rebounding and defense to secure a 9-1 start.
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Having a Division-I player in senior Sydney Shelton doesn’t hurt, but the solid start can be attributed to more than Shelton’s terrific all-around play. The Butler University signee is averaging 26.2 points per game and had 27 in the win against the Arabians, but the Marauders entire rotation has provided valuable contributions in their own right.
With Indiana University Southeast signee Ariana Sandefur, a senior guard, and freshman center Shelby Case sidelined, sophomore forward Sophie Williams, junior forward Hanna Johnson, junior guard Megan Gawrys, senior forward Sadie Baugh and sophomore forward Mary Fleming each have provided productive minutes for head coach Steve Doud.
In the victory Saturday, all five scored at least five points, with three registering nine or more. Gawrys, who rarely leaves the floor (27.6 minute per game), finished with 11 points, while Baugh and Williams added 10 and nine, respectively.
“I have been surprised at how well we have been playing in her (Sandefur) absence,” Doud said. “We have had some girls that have stepped up. Before she went down I was concerned about our depth.”
Williams finished second on the team with 10 rebounds against Pendleton Heights, just missing a double-double behind Shelton’s 11, and is averaging a team-high 6.7 boards per game, both off the bench and occasionally in a starting role.
Doud said the sophomore spark plug does exactly as she’s told — play sound defense and rebound the basketball.
“That’s why I brought her up (from the junior varsity) from the start,” Doud said. “That’s been big for us.”
In other words, she does the dirty work. And does so efficiently in just 18 minutes per game.
“My role is to give my team an inside presence,” Williams said. “I focus on rebounding, setting screens and playing good defense against the other team’s taller girls.”
Williams had eight points and 12 rebounds in the season-opening win against Franklin Community and scored a season-high 12 points against Indianapolis Marshall. She is shooting 57 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the foul line.
She said the upperclassmen’s positive attitudes have been highly influential to her success.
“The girls are very encouraging on and off the
court,” Williams said about her new, extended role. “I’ve learned that the game is more physical, and so I am adjusting accordingly.”
Baugh, a three-year starter, is second on the team in scoring and third in rebounding at 8.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. She is third on the team in minutes played and scored a season-high 17 points against Lawrence Central.
“Yeah we want her to score and rebound, but more importantly we need her leadership on the floor,” Doud explained. “Especially on the defensive side, she knows that defense we run. She can help some of the young kids.”
Johnson adds shooting depth (4.6 points per game, nine 3-point field goals) while Fleming, who was brought up from the junior varsity team, has been a catalyst off the bench. She shot 5 of 7 field goals for 10 points against state-ranked Westfield, the team’s only loss (61-59).
“She won the Franklin Community game for us,” Doud said of Fleming. “She was critical in the Westfield game and had eight points in the second quarter. She came in and gave us a spark.”
Added Shelton, who also leads Mt. Vernon in assists (4.2 per game): “Injuries are never a good thing, but I’m super proud of the players that have been stepping up in Shelby’s and Ariana’s place.”
One way to make up for a loss in scoring is at the charity stripe. The Marauders have done exactly that.
As a team, the Marauders are shooting 82 percent on free attempts, with Shelton and Gawrys hitting at an 88 percent clip. In fact, all eight players registering minutes (including Sandefur and Case) are knocking down at least 67 percent of their attempts.
In its past three games, Mt. Vernon is 53-for-65 from the line — right on par. Not only are the Marauders getting to the foul line, they are capitalizing when they do.
And with Sandefur expected to be out until the end of the month, that aggressive style of play must continue.
Sandefur was averaging 6.6 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game through five games this season and is expected to return around the beginning of the new year. She is recovering from a bad ankle sprain sustained Nov. 20 against Rushville.
The sharpshooter was second on the team in scoring in 2014 and was playing her best game of the year against the Lions when she went down after a fast-break steal, according to coach Doud.
“She has been optimistic about it, because she gets to come back,” Doud said. “She still has that hope, and her last game she played was one of the best games I’ve seen her play in the year and a half I’ve been here.”
Case was chipping in 4.6 points per game and 3.4 rebounds per game through nine games but missed the HHC-opener on Saturday.
The road ahead doesn’t get much easier for Mt. Vernon as the Marauders travel to Anderson today before playing two HHC foes in Yorktown and New Palestine. A matchup with No. 19 North Central (6-3) looms on Dec. 19.
In order to keep the wins coming, Doud said the Marauders would need to take better care of the basketball, especially against teams trying to wreak havoc.
“We had too many turnovers tonight (Saturday),” Doud said. “We want to keep them at 13 and under. I’m hoping we can take the sloppiness out of our play. North Central will try to expose that. Anderson will have some quickness that will cause problems.
“We need to be efficient throughout the whole game, and I think that’s the biggest thing.”